The president’s inexperienced appointee will oversee every intelligence agency in an interim capacity, including the CIA and FBI.
Following his acquittal on impeachment charges Feb. 5, it was only a matter of time before heads started to roll in Washington. In a matter of days and without hesitation, Donald Trump punished those government employees who testified against him during the impeachment trial, and both Gordon Sondland − his ambassador to the European Union at the time − and Alexander Vindman − the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council − were left jobless overnight.*
The purge did not stop there, and on Thursday he unceremoniously dismissed the acting director of national intelligence. Joseph Maguire lost Trump’s confidence after it became known that last week one of his advisers testified before members of the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is again interfering in the American electoral process with the purpose of benefiting Trump’s reelection campaign.
The reason behind the sudden dismissal again raised alarm among his detractors, who see in the latest changes coming from the White House another vendetta against those who show disloyalty to the president. This is also the case among prominent members of the intelligence community, such as former CIA Director John Brennan, who expressed his concern on Friday about Maguire’s dismissal, and stated that this is a “virtual decapitation” of the intelligence services.
As he nears the end of his first term and with an eye on the November election, Trump is determined to surround himself with his most loyal servants, as he made clear by announcing the name of Maguire’s replacement. Richard Grenell − currently ambassador to Germany and who has no experience related to the position − is set to take charge of the office that oversees the 17 intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI.
Grenell has been working in Berlin since 2018, but used to be a Fox News contributor, known for his allegiance to Trump and for being a spokesman for the U.S. mission at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration. He is a fervent follower of the far-right website Breitbart News and has used social media to launch sexist attacks against former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and journalist Rachel Maddow.
This replacement astonished the Democratic opposition. “The intelligence community deserves stability and an experienced individual to lead them in a time of massive national and global security challenges,” warned Rep. Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Now more than ever our country needs a Senate-confirmed intelligence director,” he added.**
The opinion pages of The Washington Post ran editorials regretting the appointment of someone so “unqualified” for the position, while The New York Times openly wondered if Grenell would “destroy” the intelligence community. The president, however, once again turned to social media in order to clarify that Grenell would hold the position in an interim capacity. “Four great candidates are under consideration at DNI. Decision within next few weeks!” he tweeted.
From his Twitter platform, Trump also took the opportunity to discredit the reports warning about alleged Russian meddling in the November election, claiming that these stem from a “misinformation campaign” orchestrated by his political rivals. “Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” stated the president.
*Editor’s note: U.S. Lt. Col. Vindman, former director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council, was reassigned to another position on Feb. 7, 2020.
** Editor’s note: On Feb. 28, Donald Trump nominated Republican congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas to serve as permanent director of national intelligence subject to confirmation.